Daydreamer serene and happy female tourist people enjoying trip destination admiring nature outdoor

Embracing ‘Niksen’ – The Dutch Art of Doing Nothing

‘Niksen’ is the Dutch art of consciously doing nothing, a practice which apparently contributes to happiness, productivity and creativity and the Dutch are said to be one of the happiest peoples in the world.1

Niksen is not the same as mindfulness. It doesn’t require you to focus your entire attention on the present moment (which takes concentration and can be tiring for some); neither is it the same as meditation which, for example, requires deliberation on a mantra. Niksen allows you to think (or not) about anything you want. Your mind can just wander.

Niksen, not focussing on anything in particular, seems to activate our alpha brain waves (which measure between 8 and 12 Hz)2 and results in us feeling calm and relaxed. A small, randomised study found that alpha activity in frontal brain areas is selectively involved in creativity.3

Lisa MacLean,4 a psychiatrist, states: ‘Sometimes we need to idle the engine and just be. A well-placed “time out” can be extremely effective, improving your ability to innovate, reason and be present in your daily life’. 

MacLean lists the mental health benefits of daydreaming, which include:

  1. Aiding problem-solving
  2. Boosting creativity
  3. Improving learning
  4. Increasing productivity
  5. Inspiring kindness
  6. Uplifting mood

I’m not very good at doing nothing. I think it is because I was brought up to admire the culture of a strong work ethic and not be lazy. I also have a lot to do. I remember being irritated by my adolescent children when they lounged about doing nothing. Perhaps innately they had discovered Niksen!

However, keen to promote the above benefits in my life, I resolved to include periods of doing nothing in my day. An ideal opportunity arose in the form of a holiday. I normally pack trips away with activities which I do not normally get much opportunity to do, such as reading novels or scuba diving. I decided to also spend time doing Niksen – doing nothing or, more specifically, performing an action without a clear purpose or a deadline. Doing something just for the sake of doing it.

At first it was rather difficult for me. I could only manage about a minute at a time. As the holiday relaxation kicked in, however, I started to find that I was taking longer in this practice; I enjoyed it and it felt rejuvenating. 

It may have been the holiday, the rest away from work but the periods of Niksen did not seem like a waste of time – I was doing ‘being’! This was relaxing… and I did come up with some creative ideas during these times.

I have resolved to continue this practice as it feels good not to experience guilt about sitting in my favourite comfy chair by a window, absentmindedly watching the wildlife in my garden; to just be a human ‘being’ as opposed to my frequent state as a human ‘doing’.

Su Mason PhD

References:

1.  Mecking, Olga. Niksen: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing. Piatkus. 2020
2. Larson, Jennifer. What Are Alpha Brain Waves and Why Are They Important? October 9th 2019 – https://www.healthline.com/health/alpha-brain-waves [Accessed 26-1-24]
3. Lustenberger, C. et al. Functional role of frontal alpha oscillations in creativity.  Cortex Volume 67, June 2015, Pages 74-82 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0010945215001033?via%3Dihub  [Accessed 26-1-24]
4. Henry Ford Health Staff. 6 Health Benefits of Taking Time to Do Nothing. December 23rd, 2022 – https://www.henryford.com/blog/2022/12/6-health-benefits-of-taking-time-to-do-nothing#:~:text=%E2%80%9CDoing%20nothing%20can%20trigger%20a,MacLean%20says. [Accessed 26-1-24]

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